Eric Carmen, Raspberries Frontman and ‘All by Myself’ Singer, Dies at 74 (2024)

Eric Carmen, who became an icon of early ’70s power pop as the frontman of the Raspberries before achieving solo success with hits like “All By Myself” and “Hungry Eyes,” has died at age 74.

“It is with tremendous sadness that we share the heartbreaking news of the passing of Eric Carmen,” his wife, Amy Carmen, wrote on the singer’s website. wrote. “Our sweet, loving and talented Eric passed away in his sleep, over the weekend. It brought him great joy to know, that for decades, his music touched so many and will be his lasting legacy. Please respect the family’s privacy as we mourn our enormous loss. ‘Love Is All That Matters… Faithful and Forever.'”

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The latter quote from Carmen’s wife is a callback to the song “Love Is All That Matters,” from his 1977 solo album “Boats Against the Current.” No cause of death or exact date of death has been announced.

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While mostly known as a balladeer, in his early years the Cleveland-born musician was the primary singer and songwriter of the Raspberries, who rebelled against the heavy, glam and progressive-rock scenes of the early ’70s and threw back to the Beatlesesque pop they were raised on. Carmen was not only a deft (if deliberately derivative) songwriter but also a full-throttle rock and roll shouter in the Paul McCartney/ Steve Marriott tradition, and the author of several classic songs of the genre, includingthe band’s highly suggestive first and biggest hit, “Go All the Way,” as well as“I Wanna Be With You,” “Let’s Pretend,” “Tonight” and “Overnight Sensation.”

The group was often lambasted at the time for being too pop or wimpy, but the Raspberries could be a powerhouse rock band when they chose to. Along with kindred spirits Badfinger, Big Star and Todd Rundgren, they forged a model that has been revived multiple times over the decades, most vividly in the early ‘90s with bands like Teenage Fanclub, the Posies and even Nirvana: Kurt Cobain was a fan, as well as Bruce Springsteen — who contributed liner notes to a live reunion album — Kiss and Motley Crue.

After the band broke up in the mid-’70s, Carmen established himself as a successful solo artist with “All by Myself,” “Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” and “Hey Deanie” (a hit for Shaun Cassidy). His run of hits continued into the ’80s with the “Dirty Dancing” song “Hungry Eyes.”

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Carmen was born in Cleveland in 1949 and began showing musical talent as a toddler. He began taking violin lessons at six —his aunt was a violinist in the Cleveland Orchestra —and later piano (“Breezing through seven-and-a-half years of classical training in four”) and, after seeing the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” guitar. By high school was writing songs and playing in rock bands, including one with the unusual name of Cyrus Erie (inspired, like Buffalo Springfield, by a name on a tractor).

The vibrant Cleveland rock scene of the time — which also spawned Joe Walsh, later of the Eagles —featured many of the same musicians playing together in a dizzying series of bands. Cyrus Erie released a single on Epic called “Get the Message” in 1968 and continued for a couple more years before Carmen and the band’s fiery lead guitarist, Wally Bryson, joined forces with bassist John Aleksic and powerhouse drummer Jim Bonfanti to form the Raspberries in 1970, with the intention of writing harmony-driven pop-rock songs. Bonfanti had played with Bryson in local legends the Choir, who’d scored a 1966 nationwide hit in their mid-teens with the garage-pop classic “It’s Cold Outside” and opened for many of their heroes, including the Who and the Yardbirds. Aleksic soon dropped out and was replaced by ex-Choir singer Dave Smalley, who’d recently returned from serving in Vietnam.

Not surprisingly, considering their years of playing together, the lineup gelled quickly and powerfully, and soon united with producer-manager Jimmy Ienner (older brother and business partner of future Columbia Records CEO Don Ienner) and signed with Capitol Records. An inspired producer, the elder Ienner helped the band to attain their vibrant combination of power and pop: Bringing together a wide range of influences spanning from the Beatles, Beach Boys and girl groups to hard rockers like the Who and Free, those influences came into vivid focus on “Go All the Way.”

The song reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, either driven by or — depending on one’s take — held back by the controversy over the surprisingly explicit lyrics, still unusual for Top 40 radio in the summer of 1972.

”When I was writing ‘Go All the Way,’ I’d seen how the Stones were forced to change their lyrics on Ed Sullivan,” Carmen said in “Overnight Sensation,” Ken Sharp’s history of the group. “And I was listening to[the Beach Boys’] ‘Pet Sounds,’ where Brian Wilson is talking about sleeping with his girlfriend, but in an innocent way, and getting away with it. ‘I thought, If we sing this like choirboys and put the words in the girl’s mouth, maybe we can slide this by radio!’ And it worked.”

The group and Ienner never shied away from a gimmick — their debut album had a scratch-and-sniff logo on the cover that smelled like raspberries —and for their second LP, “Fresh,” they flew in the face of trends and embraced the ‘60s pop group imagery wholeheartedly, appearing on the cover in matching white suits. While the album spawned two hits in the jangly “I Wanna Be With You” (No. 16 on the Hot 100) and the ballad “Let’s Pretend,” and the determinedly outdated look had its own kind of cool among fans, the group’s reputation took a beating in the rock press —legendary critic Lester Bangs eviscerated their more derivative moments (most of which would be considered “influences” today).

Apparently stung by the criticism, the group ditched the suits and fired back in 1973 with “Side 3,” by far its hardest-rocking album. Ienner cranked up the drums, Bonfanti channeled his inner Keith Moon, and the sound created a blazing contrast with Carmen’s complex melodies, multi-chord song structures and the group’s harmonies, especially on the single “Tonight,” which in many ways is the ultimate power-pop song. Other highlights from the album include “I’m a Rocker” — featuring what may be Carmen’s most powerful vocal — and “Ecstasy.”

But “Tonight” stalled at No. 69 — possibly also due to Carmen shouting “Won’t you let me sleep with you!” during the song’s finale — and the band splintered, with Nebraska-born bassist Scott McCarl and former Cyrus Erie drummer Michael McBride joining for their final studio effort, 1974’s “Starting Over.” The album featured another Carmen classic in “Overnight Sensation” —as calculated a hit single as there ever was, its chorus goes “Want a hit record, yeah!” —which reached No. 18. But the group’s moment, if it ever truly had one, had passed.

“We thought that we were being radical,” Carmen told the audience at a Raspberries reunion show in 2004, “but FM radio thought we were being reactionary.”

However, within a year Carmen had joined forces with Clive Davis at his newly launched Arista Records, and less than 18 months after the Raspberries released their final album, he’d scored a No. 2 single with the maudlin “All by Myself,” a song that channeled and subverted Nilsson’s smash cover of Badfinger’s “Without You,” complete with the soaring chorus and tumultuous orchestra (and a Rachmaninoff lift in the middle section as unsubtle as any of his rock or pop influences).

“Never Gonna Fall in Love Again” fared well as a follow-up, hitting No. 11 on the Hot 100 and rising to the top of the adult contemporary chart. Carmen did not revisit the top 10 until “Hungry Eyes” rode the “Dirty Dancing” phenomenon to a No. 4 peak on the Hot 100 in 1987 (the soundtrack also reunited him with Ienner, who served as executive producer), although three years earlier he co-wrote the hit “Almost Paradise” from the film “Footloose,” which was sung by Heart’s Ann Wilson and Loverboy’s Mike Reno. “Make Me Lose Control” rose one notch higher than that, as a No. 3 hit the following year.

Carmen never again charted a single after the 1980s, nor did he release any studio albums after 1984’s “Eric Carmen,” with one exception, 2000’s Rhino release “I Was Born to Love You” (originally released only in Japan) in 1998, which found him reuniting with songwriting collaborators like Dean Pitchford (with whom he wrote “Almost Paradise”) and Diane Warren.

Raspberries cultists were in for a treat when the band gave in to decades’ worth of reunion pleas and got back together, briefly, in the mid-2000s. A 2005 concert at L.A.’s House of Blues was released as the live album “Live on Sunset Strip,” for which Bruce Springsteen contributed a quote to the liner notes. Another show from that reunion, recorded at the House of Blues in Cleveland, was issued in 2017 by Omnivore as “Pop Art Live.”

”People used to ask me ‘Why don’t you guys get together and just play one gig?”’ said Carmen in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. ”Because it takes the same amount of preparation for one good show as a six-month tour. I never wanted to be the guy to put this band back on a stage and pop everyone’s bubble and have them go home saying ‘Oh, they weren’t that good.'” It didn’t help that things had ended acrimoniously back in the day, with a reported parking-lot fight. “But 30 years have passed, and everybody is a grown-up now, with a life.”

In 2000, Carmen joined Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band on tour, performing his biggest solo and Raspberries hits as well as sitting in with the performer whose band had provided a template for much of his musical life.

In recent years, as he held back from releasing new music or performing in concert, fans communicated with him on social media — sometimes combatively, given his staunch conservative political views — until he withdrew from Twitter a few years ago. He married his wife, Amy Murphy, in 2016.

Yet Carmen and the group’s musical influence has resonated throughout the years. “All by Myself” was featured in a pivotal scene in the 1995 Nicole Kidman-starring film “To Die For”; two years later Celine Dion took her version of it to No. 4; and two decades after that, “Go All the Way” experienced a resurgence the original Raspberries scarcely could have imagined in 1972, when it appeared on the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack.

Eric Carmen, Raspberries Frontman and ‘All by Myself’ Singer, Dies at 74 (2024)
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